It has been said that if you say something often enough and emphatically enough, more and more people will believe it. Something that at first may seem obviously ridiculous with repetition becomes accepted fact. That is why Holocaust deniers are placing their works in college libraries so that future students will come to question the historical fact of the Holocaust. That is also why purveyors of hate are having a field day with an Internet that provides unlimited and immediate access to spread all different forms of hate, particularly anti-Semitism.
Though cloaked in modern technology, the problem of spreading lies about one group of people to stimulate hatred and violence against them is probably as old as human kind. It is a crucial element in the Book of Esther we will read next Thursday night on Purim. The story recounts how the evil vizier Haman sought to destroy all the Jews in the Persian Empire because he was insulted that the Jew Mordecai would not bow down to him. The Jews are saved when King Ahashverus’ queen, Esther, who had hidden her identity as a Jew and Mordecai’s relative, reveals she is Jewish and begs the king to save her life and the lives of her people.
What is interesting is how Haman translates an individual experience (of Mordecai refusing to obey the king’s order to bow down to him) into a plot worthy of Osama bin Laden. He cleverly tells the king that there are a group of people who do not obey the king’s laws. They are scattered throughout the kingdom (read: presenting a dangerous fifth column or potential rebellious force). In a kingdom composed of various ethnic groups, a kingdom in which the peace of the realm was dependent upon the smooth cooperation of these ethnic groups in the Persian administrative system, this was quite a charge. Haman adds, almost as an aside, that if the Jews are eliminated, their possessions would fall to the crown. Not a bad way to pad one’s coffers.
We can understand Haman: he is sick. The affront to his ego becomes pathological. What is harder to understand is that, according to the Book of Esther, over 75,000 average Persians across the empire rise up to kill the Jews on the set day, even after Esther reveals herself as a Jew and the king issues a new decree that the Jews can defend themselves. Many Persians flock to the Jews, but many others actively seek to harm them. The only answer I find reasonable is that, in distributing the king’s initial decree to kill the Jews, Haman included the very lies that convinced the king to slaughter every Jewish man woman and child in the first place. In other words, the attackers were motivated by the dissemination of anti-Semitic diatribes. Imagine the numbers that would have been involved if Haman had had access to the Internet!
That is why anti-Semitism on the internet should concern us. That is why organizations like the ADL and the Israel Project need funders who can make smart internet resources and training available to our college youth and young adults. That is also why we cannot stand idly by, but must join the struggle as modern Esthers: because lies that are not exposed as lies come to be believed as truth.